A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Let’s face it: eating healthy and exercising regularly can be hard, even without a global pandemic confining us to our homes. Our routines have been completely shifted, and life as we knew it is completely different. It is not uncommon to take comfort in a bag of chips or a pint of ice cream and not exercise for a while. However, it is important to make sure that you are on top of your own health so that you can feel good and stay sane. I will share my own journey with trying to stay active and eating healthy during a pandemic.
When the lockdown started in March 2020, I was confused and shocked. I was no longer able to attend classes at university and the gym had closed. I used to workout at the gym regularly and it was my safe haven. When this was no longer an option, I decided to leave Leiden. I had decided to quarantine with my boyfriend and his family in their house in Den Haag. Without a gym, my boyfriend and I tried to stay active by going on frequent walks and by kicking a football around outside. I was also doing at home workouts on my yoga mat and watching a lot of fitness Youtubers. At this time, I had also started meditation (though I wasn’t very good at being regular at it) at the advice of my therapist.
For the first few months, our routine was working well. I was able to study and also manage to workout pretty regularly. The diet part was a bit tricky, however. I would normally try to eat a lot of vegetables and fruit. I would avoid ‘bad foods’ like ice cream, chocolate, chips, etc. However, being with my boyfriend and his family, I didn’t always get to choose what we were eating. And unfortunately, that gave me some anxiety for a while and I had an overwhelming fear of gaining weight. Stepping on a scale would ruin the rest of my day. However, I was forced to confront my issues with eating and I had to let go of my fears and my sense of ‘control’. I had to do the best that I could to eat food that would fuel my body, but also to accept that I was going to eat junk food sometimes. I wanted the ice cream and chocolate, so I gave it to myself. And nothing bad happened. I gained a lot of physical strength back and I felt happier overall. I stopped weighing myself and it was the best thing I ever did for my health.
After two months in Den Haag, my boyfriend and I had found a place to live together in Leiden. So we decided to move back and move in together into an apartment. We thought that living on our own was going to be difficult and we were getting very comfortable with each other. So we just moved in together!
When we moved in together, my routine had changed and I saw myself becoming stressed and unhappy with my diet and exercise routine. This was mainly caused by the sudden change in routine again and the mounting university workload. I saw myself slipping into an anxious mess and I didn’t want to do anything. After my exams were over however and summer came along, I felt better because I had a break from my studies. I still wasn’t working out very regularly but I felt better and I took quite a long break from everything.
Now, it is October and I have finally been getting back on track. At first, I was still adjusting to university online and struggling a lot. I couldn’t focus on working out. However, eventually I started to work out at home again, focusing on pilates and strength training. I will also try to do one high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout per week. My favorite workout Youtubers are Blogilates, Lilly Sabri, and Chloe Ting. I normally do a 20 minute workout and I try to do it at least three or four times a week. I don’t always make my workouts, but when I do, I never regret it afterwards. I have also found that yoga is a great way to calm my own mind when I get anxious. That has also been important for my health because reducing your stress levels also contributes to weight loss and overall happiness.
Social media also had a negative impact on my body image and self-worth. So I unfollowed people who made me feel insecure on social media. Instead, I followed accounts that promote body positivity like @eatwithcare on Instagram. And I learned so much about other people’s journeys and it really encouraged me to take better care of myself.
The most important lesson that I have learned throughout my journey of being on track, falling off of it and getting back on it again, is that progress is not linear. In theory, I knew this to be true. In practice however, and as a serial perfectionist, I had a difficult time accepting this. True health and well-being takes A LOT of patience. You will never get to where you want to be by obsessing over every little bite of food or poking at the fat on your thighs. It is not sustainable and it is simply a miserable way to live. You need to do what makes you feel good. Move your body because it feels good, eat healthy because it makes you feel strong. Everything else will follow. And don’t be so hard on yourself. You are doing the best you can.